TUCSON, Ariz. — Real Salt Lake manager Jason Kreis is not usually one for hyperbole. So when he says that fourth-year center back Chris Schuler’s potential is “off the charts,” you tend to perk up.
How far off the charts?
“If he takes that next step he should be knocking on the door of the national team, in my opinion,” Kreis told MLSsoccer.com on Friday.
That next step, according to Kreis, is “consistency,” and it’s a big one for the 25-year-old Schuler.
Despite flashes of promise, Schuler's injuries and RSL’s veteran backline have limited him to just 34 appearances since he was drafted in 2010.
In 2012, he got off to his best start, making the starting XI the first three matches and seven of the first 12. But in May, a left bone stress response — a.k.a., the early stages of a stress fracture — forced him out of action for three months. After returning in September, he made two more starts before suffering a quadriceps injury in a late-October CONCACAF Champions League match against Herediano, ruling him out of the MLS playoffs.
This year, following the trade of Jamison Olave to New York in December, a starting center back position is there for the taking. The opportunity is made that much more tantalizing due to an injury to veteran Nat Borchers. (“Nat is a long ways away,” Kreis said.) Schuler featured with the regular starters in RSL's 2-2 draw with New York in Wednesday's preseason match here at the Desert Diamond Cup. And barring an injury, Kreis confirmed, he will start alongside Kwame Watson-Siriboe in their season-opener, March 3, away to the San Jose Earthquakes.
“From the very first year we had him, we felt he had a je ne sais quoi, the personality, the mentality to be a big-game player,” Kreis said. “He’s proven us correct because every time he’s played in the most critical of matches ... he’s given us a tremendous performance. He’s earned the chance to be a week-in, week-out guy.”
Schuler may not have played as much as everyone would’ve hoped at this point in his career, but now that he’s healthy and seems to have his coach’s complete backing, he isn’t lacking for confidence.
“I think that I’ve proven myself to an extent over the three years that I’ve been here,” he told me. “I’ve always tried to play well, but I’ve only played well in a few games. Now they think it’s something I can maintain.”
In other words, he’s ready to show that he can be consistent, and maybe that he can take that next step.
RSL take on the Seattle Sounders in both clubs’ second match at the Desert Diamond Cup, Saturday, 6 pm ET. The match will be broadcast live on MLSsoccer.com.